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Starting Oct. 8, Michigan medical marijuana patients and their doctors can complete their registrations online.

The change is likely to make the registration and renewal process easier for many medical marijuana patients and doctors who have so far relied on paper forms to join the registry, said Andrew Brisbo, director of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

“The ultimate win here is reducing the processing time,” Brisbo said, noting the bureau will maintain its paper process for those who prefer it.

The online registry process is available only to medical marijuana patients without caregivers — about 69 percent of Michigan's medical marijuana patients — though the bureau may eventually expand it to patients with caregivers. Patients who plan to remove their caregiver can renew online in the new system.

The online program also will allow patients to register or renew online, request replacement cards, pay their $60 registration and renewal fee, check on the status of an application, update names and addresses, or withdraw from the registry.

“Currently, we process all applications within 15 business days of receipt and this could potentially shorten that time frame within a couple of days,” Brisbo said.

Doctors who register for a secure online account can verify a patient’s use of medical marijuana, but still must meet physically with their medical marijuana patients as required under the law.

The bureau will start contacting doctors to inform them of the option within the next couple of weeks and the program is expected to be up and running by Oct. 8.

Patients can enroll online even if their physician has no online account and doctors can complete their side of the process online even if their patients choose to use paper forms, Brisbo said.

With the second highest patient population in the nation, the online format will be beneficial even if voters approve recreational marijuana in November, Brisbo said.

In other states that have gone from medical to recreational marijuana, the number of patients increased slightly after the approval of recreational marijuana, he said. Michigan has roughly 297,000 medical marijuana patients and about 43,000 caregivers.

“I think we’re being responsive to ultimately meet the needs of the patients and physicians,” Brisbo said.

Brisbo argued the online format is more secure than the paper process. Patients will be required to create a username and password for a secure online account and a patient’s residency and identity will be crosschecked with the Secretary of State’s office. Physicians will be issued a personal identification number and will create a username and password.

The online application platform comes as the state works to launch a new regulated medical marijuana industry by December and as voters consider a November ballot proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is not taking a position on the proposal, but has begun to consider the implications for the agency should the proposal pass, Director Shelly Edgerton said Wednesday.

“We’ve learned a lot on the medical side so we would hope to replicate some of that knowledge and be able to put into place relatively quickly some of the practices and processes that we’ll need to implement,” Edgerton said.

Should voters approve the ballot proposal, the state will have a year to set up a framework for the new recreational marijuana industry, a quick turnaround considering the state has been working to launch the commercial medical marijuana industry for nearly two years.

Nonetheless, Edgerton expects the department would be able to meet that deadline.

“In the ballot proposal, a lot of authority resides with the department rather than the appointed board by the governor so in terms of that we know we’ll be able to streamline potentially the processing of a lot of applications,” she said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

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